Online marketing has been cemented as a norm since more and more businesses have to come up with digital campaigns, stand out from the crowded online space, and continue to increase their bottom line.
No industry is spared either—data published by ProfitWell showed us that even largely online subscription-based companies in the SaaS industry have been struggling to acquire new customers and must instead deal with the increased risk of customer churn.
If you’re responding to the growing need for digital marketing agencies, then you’re probably thinking about scaling upward. This is no easy feat, and you’ll likely have some growing pains—but if you take all the right precautions and steps, you can make the transition as painless as possible.
In this post, we’ll show you 10 strategies for scaling your digital marketing agency in the new normal without sacrificing quality service or customer relationships.
The Current Challenges of Scaling a Digital Marketing Agency
In order to understand our strategies for scaling a digital marketing agency, let’s first take a look at the challenges one might encounter during this process. This way, you’ll know exactly what to look for as you scale, so you can minimize these challenges from occurring in your agency.
Increasing Client Churn
According to this Forbes article that summarized the new Small Business Financial Health Survey conducted by Biz2Credit: “Year-over-year revenues of small business owners plummeted 52% while their payroll expenses dropped 54% in the second quarter of 2020.”
This is, of course, widely because of the effects of COVID-19. Some businesses had to cease operations for some part of early 2020, while we can also infer that the changing purchasing habits of customers only contributed to lower profits.
Businesses had to reevaluate their priorities, and as a result, may have had to let go of contracts with their marketing agencies. Churn can be a huge problem for digital marketing companies that are trying to scale because when a client suddenly pulls out their contract, the agency may be left overstaffed and underfunded.
Low Profit Margins
Findings from a 2019 Promethean Research survey found that profit margins for the entire digital marketing industry hovers at around 18%, but many agencies, particularly small to medium agencies only have between 11% – 15%. This can prove a challenge to agencies trying to scale, especially if you have to sustain employee salaries and increase your payroll budget to welcome new talent.
Agencies will often have to find new clients or upsell existing ones before they can justify the cost of hiring new employees to contribute to the team. However, this also becomes a dilemma since existing teams and employees have to handle extra projects before they can get new members to even out the load.
Because the ad industry is notorious for higher-than-average turnover rates—with compensation cited as one of the main reasons a digital marketing employee might leave their agency—this becomes a delicate task of hiring new talent at exactly the right time to support your agency’s current effort to scale, which leads us to our final challenge.
Finding Quality Talent
Of course, finding quality talent can be difficult for a digital marketing agency, amid tough competition. Employees of one company may be swayed by competing agencies with the promise of better compensation, work-life boundaries, and career growth—so this is no different when trying to attract new talent to either fill in the gaps or help your agency grow.
Hiring and training new employees is the 3rd biggest challenge for agencies, according to WordStream.
Employers have started to deal with this challenge by positioning themselves as transparently as possible, highlighting themselves for their work culture and ongoing efforts to provide employees with relevant benefits including mental health programs and outside-work perks to make their tenure more comfortable despite the fast pace.
How to Scale Your Digital Marketing Agency in the New Normal
Now that we understand the different challenges your agency might encounter as it tries to scale, we can now move on to the strategies to help you grow with more ease. Many of these strategies will require participation across many teams, so remember that communicating your efforts to your whole company can be the key to making all these strategies work.
Re-Evaluate Your Buyer Persona
First, because of the new normal, it might be high time for your digital marketing agency to re-evaluate your current buyer persona. The businesses you serve and want to serve may have changed their priorities during the pandemic, and their needs might not be the same as they were pre-COVID-19.
Fortunately, you can update your buyer persona easily by taking a look at your existing clients. Tap your team leads for new trends they notice about your clients, including notes from meetings or briefs from recent campaigns. These can provide insights about how their business has shifted, which can signal a broader trend.
Your buyer persona will then aid you in identifying new ways to deepen your relationship with these existing clients, while also spotting opportunities to pitch to new clients who fit this updated persona.
Guide questions for updating your buyer persona in the new normal
- Do your clients offer new products or services because of the new normal?
- How have their operations been affected by the new normal (and how will that affect their customers)?
- What are their customers’ new habits and purchasing behaviors?
- What is the number one priority of your clients right now in the new normal?
Now that you know who you’re working with, it’s time to improve the how.
Optimize Your Workflow Processes
Scaling an agency is hard work, and what kept your business afloat until now may not necessarily work for a bigger agency.
Stay ahead of scaling pains by evaluating your current workflow processes and identifying potential bottlenecks that might come up in the process.
Scaling will most likely entail hiring new people onboard, so you can start by streamlining your hiring process. Create a step-by-step workflow for HR teams to manage recruitment, interviews, and onboarding—like using a customer relationship management tool to manage candidates and monitor where they currently stand in your recruitment stages.
Your creative teams may also need a workflow change. Don’t be afraid to ask individual employees about where they think work processes can be better. Is there a more efficient way to cascade new campaign briefs? Are there perhaps ways to optimize meetings to be shorter, so people can be more productive?
Now that you’ve reevaluated your agency from the inside, it’s time to look outwards.
Build Your Digital Marketing Agency’s Brand
Agencies help their clients build their brand—but it’s important to stay on top of your own, especially if you’re going to attract both new leads and new employees.
We mentioned reviewing your buyer persona in the first tip, so put that to use here. Perhaps you can identify opportunities to offer digital marketing services to a very specific niche, e.g. food and beverage businesses, or in-person groups like gyms and workshop venues wanting to take their business online.
Your brand also needs to be present if new leads and candidates are going to find you, so update your website and social media pages with your most successful campaigns with recent clients amid COVID-19. You can even communicate how your agency collaborates with clients in the new normal, to help prove how well your brand can manage their expectations and needs even in this climate.
Use the same strategies you might use with your clients’ businesses to reach new leads and sign new retainers. Get glowing testimonials, build video case studies, keep an active social media presence, and update your blog—show clients your expertise by using your own agency as proof of your effectiveness.
Implement a Work Culture Conducive for Remote Work
The new normal has pushed remote work as the standard mode of work and collaboration much faster than we may have expected. Scaling remotely can have its challenges, but if you create a work culture that is remote-first, then you’ll quickly be able to adapt and grow as needed.
Managing a remote team is essentially built on trust: trust that your employees will be productive on their own. Studies have actually supported remote teams being more productive, as employees are able to manage their work and life on their terms and make the most of their working hours.
There are a few practices you can use to help you transition and scale your agency using a remote-first environment.
Remote work practices for scaling your marketing agency
- Aim to work asynchronously. Whenever possible, encourage employees to set their own working hours based on their energy and productive work hours. As a company or team, you can set specific times for meetings, but allow everyone to do their individual deliverables in their own time.
- Create a culture of communication. Remote work is all about communicating effectively in every stage of every project. For instance, consider hosting company-wide webinars or sending internal newsletters just for employees to send updates.
- Create checklists and workflow guides for repeating projects. Projects that often repeat in your agency, including hiring and onboarding new talent or accepting new client projects and briefs, can be supported remotely with documented guides that walk your team through each step. This way, you don’t end up skipping any important tasks while making sure you’re future-proofing your agency for any changes in manpower or leadership.
Offer Tiered Solutions
Another tip to optimize your agency is implementing tiered solutions for clients. This will help you both streamline your agency workflows and also provide more value and keep clients happy.
Start by identifying your most basic offer and how it can help your clients with their needs. Then you can move on to creating at least two other tiered offers that include more services at a more competitive price.
Make sure leads and clients can see exactly what makes each tier different to avoid any confusion. This can also be a great way to upsell existing clients by offering them extra services from your agency at a reasonable rate.
To encourage existing clients to try your tiered offers, consider offering a free trial of said offers so they can see exactly how the offer applies to their business.
Track Your Team’s Time and Productivity
Scaling your digital marketing agency in the new normal might mean you won’t be able to stay on top of every employee individually. A simple solution to this is tracking everyone’s time and productivity.
This tactic still works great with even asynchronous remote setups as employees can still set their own work hours. Tracking employees’ times can even help teams identify bottlenecks in projects and general team workflows. You can create your own timesheets for employees to fill out or use ready-made time tracking templates online.
There are lots of project and resource management tools to keep everyone on the same page. An all-in-one team collaboration suite like ProofHub can keep track of productivity automatically, while also helping teams to keep organised. Otherwise, simple time-trackers like Toggl and Clockify can also do the trick.
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Upgrade Your Toolstack
Your tools support your agency’s goal to scale, so it’s important that you make changes wherever needed. Perhaps your agency has outgrown the existing plan on your current company-wide communication channel, or you need creative tools that support more team members per account.
For this step, you might want to get your employees’ input. Send a message to the whole company encouraging people to send recommendations to tools they might think they’ll benefit from for their work. Team leaders can also facilitate these decisions by looking into new or upgraded tools to determine whether they’ll be of use to their team.
Learn How to Say “No”
The challenges we mentioned in the previous section, including low profit margins and client churn, makes it tempting to say yes to every client request, but this might be detrimental to your scaling agency as a whole.
You’ve likely already determined your area of expertise as a company, so stick to those even if clients ask for services beyond your usual scope. While some clients might not be happy about this, remember that your agency is not a one-stop shop. You’ll want to focus on services and areas where you excel and can deliver, instead of taking on every project just because.
Take a Step Back
As you scale your agency, it can be hard to look at the bigger picture. Putting out fires day-to-day as well as constantly monitoring your progress can give us a myopic view of what’s really happening.
Even if it’s hard at first, take a step back and try to look at your progress from an outsider’s perspective. Doing so may even provide you with some fresh insight about issues and roadblocks that may have been keeping your team stuck all this time.
Focus on Building and Improving Client Relationships
Last but not least, a scaling agency would be nothing without its client base—so treat your clients as the important stakeholders they are.
From the very beginning, focus on building a relationship with your clients. Take care of them and lead them through each stage of their campaigns. Make them feel like you truly value the results they’re looking for in their business, and stay attentive to their needs.
Over time, these clients can become a big part of your agency’s growth and may even pave the way for referrals and new clients along the way.
Over to You
It’s not easy to scale your marketing agency in the new normal, but it’s not impossible.
New climates require new ways of working, so it’s important to adapt to changes as they come. Use the tips and strategies in this article to help you create the path to grow your agency with the least resistance, and keep in mind that challenges will only help your team come out stronger on the other side.